What happens in your house when the clock strikes twelve on Halloween?
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Of course, our relationship doesn’t follow the “normal context, ” and so this is a story about how I met my Turkish boyfriend’s parents for the first time.
I grew up on a small ranch in Oregon, riding horses and shoveling manure. I walked to school and went to church most Sundays. My family later moved to Connecticut, and after college, I moved to Florida for the warm weather and relaxed lifestyle. I lived in a city with a population of roughly 40,000, and this felt like a city to me.
Several years later, feeling the need for a new adventure, I found myself alone on the small island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras. I was considering a position teaching at an international school there so I decided to take a vacation to Roatan to learn how it’d feel to live there before committing myself for a year. I had envisioned my year teaching third grade and spending my free time becoming a divemaster and doing yoga. Life would be slow, simple and peaceful. Naturally, my first task was to sign up for some scuba diving lessons.
My second morning on the island I was standing on the back deck of the scuba shop overlooking the gorgeous sea excitedly awaiting my dive instructor. I was daydreaming, could this be my future?
My daze was interrupted when in walked this Jacques Cousteau character; tan skin, brightly colored wool cap with a bright smile gleaming through his full beard. I wondered to myself what in the world he was doing wearing a winter hat in this tropical weather.
I was amused at this character who introduced himself as “Birant, kind of like Brian.” His eyes seemed to sparkle and before my brain could jump to other notions, his two travel companions, both female, joined him. I quickly assumed one must be his girlfriend or wife and felt at ease to chat with the happy Turkish trio, no chance of romance, my life was on a path and romance was not in the plans. They invited me to join for lunch and explorations before our night dive; I assumed they were being polite learning that I was alone.
On the water taxi ride to the other side of the island, I noticed that Birant had taken a picture, a selfie of us! and wondered if this was strange since we had just met and he was traveling with two women. As the day passed I noticed that my new friend was very attentive, whether I needed sunscreen or a candy to get the salt water taste out of my mouth, he was always considerate of the lone traveler on the boat.
I later learned the friends were on a summer Central American tour together and would be on Roatan for just a few days before moving on to Belize and later Guatemala. These were friends, no girlfriend or wife, just three single travelers who I was booked to spend all my days with diving until they left the island. Our new friendship flickered with hints of something more.
I resisted the notion of romance, I would be moving to Roatan, and he’d return to Istanbul after a few more months of travels. He could meet a dozen more women along the way, and I didn’t want to complicate my life; long distance relationships never work, let’s be rational.
Despite all my logic, our new friendship was becoming more; our entire days were spent together on the boat and relaxing between dives. Birant and his friends were enjoying their time on Roatan so much that they extended their plans to stay to match mine, I later found out that Birant played a larger part in that decision.
As for the relationship, Birant asked me to “give it a try,” neither of us were kids interested in a fling.
The simplicity of his request felt so pure. I paused and thought to myself, if I say yes, then it’s all in. No fear, no safety net, I give it my all and see where this can go. I had never met anyone like him before or felt seen the way he saw me. I took a deep breath, exhaled, letting go of all my fears and whispered okay.
“The simplicity of his request felt so pure.”
After eight days together on Roatan, I returned to Florida. As soon as I was on my own the anxiety kicked in, all the fears, all the doubt, this was crazy. I sat on the plane wondering what would become of this romance, my life, my future. Everything seemed in order, then giant curve ball. I was in the process of settling my life for the move to Roatan, packing up my belongings, selling my car, my furniture and seeing friends. My days were now also filled with Birant.
We decided that I would rejoin the group in Guatemala for another week together before they headed back to Istanbul.
It would be another week together in person to see if this relationship if all that we were feeling for each other was real. My “Jacques” would be traveling on to Australia for a month before meeting his parents in Japan for a twelve-day tour. This would be our last chance to see each other until a school break as my job with the school would start in mid-August.
Towards the end of an incredible week in Guatemala, we were sitting in a bar in Antigua, when I received the email that changed everything. My deadline to accept the teaching position for the school in Roatan was up, and they needed a decision. I would need to relocate in two weeks. I showed him my phone and watched him read the email with bated breath. He handed the phone back to me and took my hand. “Don’t take the job, come with me to Istanbul,” he whispered.
Neither of us was interested in spending the next year apart only communicating via Skype with a seven hour time difference.
Alone in our room, he told me to meet him in Japan for sushi and return to Istanbul with me. My life was already ready for an international move; I knew that I wanted to see what could become of this summer romance and the best way to learn would be to spend time together.
Despite the fact that I don’t care for sushi or that I’m a former vegetarian with lingering food phobias, (no bones or eyes please!) and twelve days in Japan would also include his parents, I said yes. Somehow I knew that no matter what it meant, I would always say yes to a life that included him. I didn’t take the position in Roatan. I decided to do the crazy thing and move across the world for a relationship.
We spent the next month on Skype while Birant explored Australia. I had a long, nearly eight-hour layover in Istanbul. I was nervous about a ten-hour flight with my boyfriend’s parents. He wouldn’t be there to introduce us or to act as an interpreter or a buffer.
What did he tell them about me? What if they’re mean? What if they don’t approve of me or their son’s plans? Every fear came to mind of how this could go terribly wrong, but nothing I imagined was as terrifying as what was to come.
It’d just be the three of us flying towards the unknown.
His father speaks English, but his mother, a former French teacher, did not. I can only assume now that they were just as freaked out to learn the news of my arrival, filled with questions as to who this American girl was, and just what my presence would mean to their family and their family’s future.
“I was going to be on a tour of Japan with my boyfriend’s parents, just the three of us.”
I sat in the airport lounge, all my accessories plugged in and charging, hours to boarding when I received a message that my boyfriend was still in Malaysia with a visa issue. He was previously told that he didn’t need a visa to enter Japan, but what he didn’t know was that having the new microchipped passport was a requirement. He was traveling on his old passport, which didn’t have the electric chip. He needed a visa or his new passport which was locked away in Istanbul. He would have to get a hotel for the night and go to the embassy in the morning to try to resolve the passport issue and then he’d take another flight to Osaka to meet us in Japan.
I was paralyzed with fear. He would not be there to greet us at the airport! After a ten-hour red-eye flight with his parents, he would not be there with his napkin sign to greet us. I was already nervous and trying to block out my fears and negative thoughts, but this just opened the floodgates. I wanted to run away, so I start sending out the panicked smoke signals.
My mom, scared of her blonde daughter moving to a Muslim country imagined a scene from the movie “Taken” and warned me that they don’t like Americans. Just come home. A friend told me it was fate, there must be some karma here with the parents and to just ride it out. I was going to be on a tour of Japan with my boyfriend’s parents, just the three of us.
He, of course, had our rail tickets, travel itinerary, all of the details. We had no way of surviving the twelve days without him, but he was in a hotel in Malaysia waiting for the embassy to open.
Hours passed, what do I do? Am I going to get on this plane and fly to Japan to take a tour with complete strangers? What if his dad’s English isn’t that good and we can’t understand each other?
His parents must be upset as well. They can’t like the idea of their trip being overtaken by some foreign girl… If I was still in London, I could miss my flight and wait a day or two until he sorted out the travel arrangements, but I was in Istanbul. I took the earlier flight to make sure I didn’t have any visa or customs issues and miss my flight. I had no return ticket, only a flight to Osaka that would return me to Istanbul twelve days later.
Several hours later I received a message back; there was nothing that could be done. Birant needed a visa to enter Japan, or he’d need his other passport, no exceptions. My heart sank. We’d have to arrive in Japan without him. He would have to fly to Istanbul, go to the police station to exchange his passports, buy another ticket for Istanbul to Osaka and join us two days later. This was the only alternative to him just flying to Istanbul to wait for his parents and me to return from our Japanese vacation without him. Not much to do.
I sat at the Ataturk airport waiting for my shuttle, still shell shocked from the news that I would have to figure out how to make the best of this uncomfortable situation. I must have looked like a ghost paled with fear. I sat, lost in a world of thought, terrified of what was to come. I was awoken from my thoughts by the realization that my name was being called. I looked up to see this sweet couple looking back at me and realizing that it was his parents, wanting to say hello and were able to pick me out of the crowd easily. Later, I learned that they had been emailed a photo of me, but at the time I thought for sure, it was the fear they were able to recognize.
My mother had always taught me to be polite and respectful, but I had no idea what to do. Do I give them a hug? Shake their hands? Showing my complete lack of confidence we bumbled through an awkward greeting of half hugging, kissing on the cheeks (left first or right? Air kiss and touch cheeks or do you really kiss their cheeks?)
We made small talk about the dire situation we found ourselves in; Birant not with us, only hoping to join us in a day or two. We were emailed instructions on how to take the train from the airport to the subway and then transfer to get to our hotel’s stop and navigate the walk from the subway to the hotel. None of us knowing any Japanese, all of us tired and stressed not only from the long red-eye flight but also from the strangeness of our situation as travel companions.
“If we didn’t work out, I’d just be this weird American girl they were stuck with in Japan that they would have to crop out of their photos.”
Somehow, we purchased tickets for the train into Osaka where we would have to navigate the subway system. I was happy to learn that Birant’s father was a strong and confident leader who took over the role of the navigator as his wife and I followed along.
There were awkward moments of financial matters.
Should I give his father money for my ticket if he paid for three or should I offer to wait in line and buy my ticket separately? I had no idea as to customs, what would be rude or expected, and I only wanted to make sure that I didn’t become an expense to his parents who already had to tolerate my presence on their family vacation.
I felt fortunate; his father was friendly in a way that put me at ease. His sense of humor and ability to act as interpreter for his wife and I made it possible for us to have some semblance of a conversation together. Three weary travelers in the strange land of Japan. We agreed to retire for the night and to meet the following morning at 9 am for breakfast.
Being on London time, I awoke early and was able to find a cup of coffee and Skype with a friend while waiting in the lobby as we had no WiFi in our rooms. Nine a.m. came and went, no parents. Thirty minutes later, 9:30 am came and went, no parents. I sat in the lobby uncomfortable as to what happened. Surely, I couldn’t have missed them. Could they have gone on without me knowing that their son wouldn’t be joining us? Ten o’clock and still nothing. Surely they couldn’t still be sleeping. I had no idea what to do.
Finally, I resolved to walk to Starbucks for a latte and something to nibble since I had been up for hours at this point with nothing but a bleak cup of lobby coffee. As I returned to the hotel, I was still alone sitting in the lobby wondering what the heck I was to do alone on this vacation with my boyfriend’s parents missing in action for hours. Did they ditch me on purpose? Were they upset with the situation and trying to avoid me until their son arrived?
Finally, Birant’s dad appeared from the elevator with his apologies that they had overslept and were just waking up, his wife still not dressed. Relieved that I had not missed something or make some error I offered to run out and find coffee and snacks for them while they prepared for the day.
There is something strange about tagging along on someone else’s vacation. I had no idea what they were told about me, about my importance or unimportance, if I even had any importance at all, but I can say that despite the uncomfortableness of our situation, they remained polite and warm.
I was asked to take their photo and even had his father take a few photos of myself with his wife, something I found strange considering that we had a future uncertain. If we didn’t work out, I’d just be this weird American girl they were stuck with in Japan that they would have to crop out of their photos.
We finished our day sightseeing and trying to navigate our combined dietary issues in a polite, reserved manner customary of two parties observing and figuring each other out. Fortunately, Japan offers such beauty and exotic strangeness that making small talk is an easy task.
Every restaurant has a plastic display of their menu items to assist foreigners in deciding what and where to eat. For us, it meant meandering glass display cases of plastic menu items like a toddler would have in their dream play kitchen until we all decided on a place with plastic items we all could agree on.
Birant’s father took his usual position as the group leader and morale booster. He made jokes with the waiter and even let him know that even though it’s the Japanese tradition for men to be served first, that indeed women should be served first. He then gave his beer to his wife to demonstrate that a gentleman serves the lady.
“I was able to observe the ease of a marriage nearly forty years strong.”
My chopstick skills are basic at best, but in the interest of going local, I wanted to give it a chance and see if my skills could rapidly improve. Birant’s father, of course, had no difficulty at all whereas his mother often asked for proper cutlery. Not all restaurants have alternative options for tourists, especially the little local hole in the wall places, which meant whenever traveling and finding plastic utensils, such as my morning trip to Starbucks, we’d shove a few extra into our purses for emergency purposes. I still carry one in my purse and smile with the memory it brings. My teeny tiny spork wrapped in plastic was worth its weight in gold for those two weeks.
I think Birant’s mom and I bonded over the fact that we preferred dining in Starbucks to the restaurants we found in Japan. Later, we found ourselves at the mall for an afternoon coffee, and cake stop at Starbucks followed by wandering the mall while Birant’s mother shopped.
Dad carried the bags, and I was able to observe the ease of a marriage nearly forty years strong. Sitting on the benches as Birant’s mom tried on hats and browsed the shops, I realized that American and Turks weren’t all that different.
As we were spending the days in Osaka, my “Jacques” was jet setting around the world, Malaysia to Istanbul, seeing his sister for lunch as he switched his passports and then catching the redeye flight to Osaka. We arrived back at the hotel after 7 pm and sat anxiously on the round sofa bench waiting for his arrival. We sat in silence as we learned he was minutes away, it had only been five weeks since we last saw each other, but it felt much longer. The butterflies were growing in my stomach; I waited for his parents to greet and hug him first as he entered the hotel, then it was my turn. This was going to be the start of our forever.
A year later we married, and people are still shocked to hear the tale of our beginning. Nothing like an entire family going “all in” together. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this initiation style to other couples, but for us, it’s a beautiful tapestry we created, all of us.
Carrie Elizabeth Akarslan is an adventure loving fan of nature, history and all things mystic. Born in the USA with dreams of seeing the world she is a scuba diver, yogi, long distance jogger and pyramid enthusiast who now lives in Istanbul with her husband, daughter, and world-traveling chihuahua, Bruno.
I want more readers, more reviews, and more people to discover the amazingness that is held within this book.
It’s been a crazy year—two books published, one successful crowdfunding campaign, book launch parties around the world, and countless articles, podcasts, and other efforts to promote the series.
The first year is always the hardest with growing pains, learning curves, and teething. If I had to plot my knowledge of self-publishing against a growth chart, it would look something like this:
Notice how I added stress to the second x-axis? That’s because learning something new is stressful and painful. I stepped way outside of my comfort zone and I am still feeling the effects of living on the fringe of comfort.
I have learned a lot about self-publishing, crowdfunding, and collaborating with women (and two dads, can’t forget them) around the world. Here are a few of my lessons learned:
The secret to marketing anything on social media is to create fantastic content that people want to comment on and share. Do you know how difficult that is? It’s exhausting.
I’ve also discovered cultural differences when it comes to marketing (Brits, I’m lovingly looking at you). As it turns out, working with a bunch of introverted writers (me included) does not make for an easy recipe to help promote a collaborative book.
Also, my audience seems to want to share funny things, but I’m not that funny. It’s a challenge.
No matter how many articles I publish, how many guest blogs I post, or how many ads I pay for on social media, the amount of exposure does not always translate into sales. Converting exposure into sales is always a struggle and I haven’t quite mastered it yet. More calls to action!
I decided to forgive myself and to forgive others for all of the mistakes we make during this learning process. There are a lot of moving pieces when juggling writers who have never been published in a book before and a publisher who is learning how to fundraise and market. We are all learning together.
However, it pays to be upfront about any mistakes made as everyone appreciates transparency and honesty.
A missed email, a miscommunication, a typo, a deleted file—all of those things can cost you credibility and trust. I need to clean up my digital files and flag my final drafts of all of my manuscripts. Currently, my computer looks like the digital equivalent of a desk covered in sticky notes. I think I know where everything is but I am sure that I have scattered thoughts written down that can be transformed into something.
I used to think that by saying I was an aspiring author or an aspiring indie publisher that people would understand that I was new to the world. Instead, I only demonstrated that I lacked confidence.
We all feel like frauds in the early part of our careers and I learned that until you own your role and say, “I’m a writer,” or “I’m an indie-publisher for women around the world to share their stories,” you aren’t going to be seen as the expert you are. Fake it until you make it.
There are so many tools, webinars, courses, and resources out there to educate yourself on how to self-publish your story. I believe that you can do whatever you want but without a personal commitment of time, effort, and funds no idea will ever take off the ground no matter how good.
Knocked Up Abroad was a catchy title and I had hopes that it would be the expat equivalent of Scary Mommy—funny stories, lighthearted anecdotes, and the like. What emerged, instead, was a series of emotional and very raw stories about loss, life, and love. I was not expecting the book series to end up where it did and I found myself along on a journey with an unclear destination.
Someone asked me, “Okay, you published a book. Now, what?” and I had no answer for her. What else did I want to do?
I struggled with my lack of clarity for a few months and it was only after much careful thought and prioritizing did I discover the direction in which I wanted to go.
There will be lots of moments of uncertainty and doubt. It is up to you to clear your head and find your way.
For three days only, Knocked Up Abroad will be free to download on Amazon for Kindle devices January 26-29.
If you’ve already read it and left a review (thank you!!), please forward this to a friend so they can also read it. Share the Knocked Up Abroad love.
All the best,
After months of collecting new stories for the book, we have over 20 mothers who have shared their stories for us to learn about the infinite ways in which women birth babies worldwide.
As the second book in the Knocked Up Abroad series, the stories within will take you on a new journey to new countries—one with laughter, some heartbreak, and a whole lot of love.
In this book, you will discover the challenges women face while pregnant, giving birth, experiencing tremendous loss, and learning the ropes of parenting in foreign cultures.
Stories take place (in no particular order) in Turkey, South Africa, Australia, The Netherlands, Bolivia, Benin, China, Thailand, Brazil, Guatemala, France, Nigeria, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Malaysia, Macedonia, Congo, India, Sweden, and Japan. A pretty wide range, huh?
We even have some returning contributors from the first book (Sarah Murdock, Clara Wiggins, and Olga Mecking) so you can continue to learn about their lives. How do you celebrate your children’s birthdays in a country that doesn’t recognize the birthday tradition? How about discovering you are pregnant while providing relief after a natural disaster? Things can get a bit crazy when you are pregnant abroad.
Are you excited about the next book in the Knocked Up Abroad series? I hope so!
We will be launching our crowdfunding campaign soon and we need your help and support in order to bring this book together.
In order to produce a professional book and provide the contributors a financial reward for sharing their stories, Knocked Up Abroad Again will be funded with your support. This campaign will result in zero profit. All excess funds after expenses for the book’s production are met are going to the contributors. The more successful the campaign, the more the writers benefit and they deserve it.
By supporting the crowdfunding campaign, not only will you receive the book BEFORE the general public, but you will also be supporting the mothers of Knocked Up Abroad Again.
And the women of Knocked Up Abroad Again are:
Lucille Abendanon, Michelle Acker Perez, Sarah Ackerman, Brynn Barineau, Nicola Beach, Debi Beaumont, Cecile Dash, Charlotte Edwards Zhang, Mihal Greener, Rosemary Gillan, Sarah Hansen, Marcey Heschel, Vanessa Jencks, Amy Johansson, Erin Long, Olga Mecking, Sarah Murdock, Margaret Özemet, Cristina Pop, Ruth Silbermayr-Song, Kristy Smith, Melissa Uchiyama, Amanda van Mulligen and Clara Wiggins.
Be on the lookout for more details soon!
Buy the first book on Amazon!
First, let’s get the terminology down: A collection of stories versus an anthology. Some people use these terms interchangeably, however, in the publishing world, a “collection of stories” is described as a book of short stories written by one person and an “anthology” as a book of short stories written by several people. Knocked Up Abroad is an anthology featuring 23 different writers in 24 different countries. On my long list of goals, getting knocked up and giving birth in 24 different countries is not something I would ever attempt so a collection of stories, it is not, according to a publisher.
Communicate clearly and regularly with your contributors
Be super clear with roles and responsibilities in the beginning of the project. Communicate a clear timeline, expectations, and what they will receive (payment, exposure, books, etc.) as contributors. Even if you are crystal clear, there may still be confusion or misunderstandings. Send regular reminders and follow up with non-responders. If someone hasn’t responded within 48 hours, send a follow-up email. If someone is throwing up roadblocks, pick up the phone and call them or schedule a Skype session. So many issues are more easily clarified through voice than email.
Pad extra time into your deadlines
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they fly by.” I am super strict when it comes to personal and professional deadlines for myself but I’m not working by myself when I’m editing an anthology. There are other people who have other life issues to consider. During the creation of Knocked Up Abroad , some of the contributors were pregnant and due before their chapter could be finished, some of them were in the midst of moving countries, and others just had really busy lives. There will always be time constraints that are beyond your control and mistakes that will cost you both time and money as you learn the ropes. Build in some extra time and set realistic targets. If people can’t make your realistic deadlines, then let them go. Don’t hold up your entire project for one person. Remember, you’re the one driving the ship.
Editing an anthology is a full-time job
Some people think that being an editor/author of an anthology is relatively easy. You can sit back and collect other people’s stories, throw them into a book, hit the publish button, and rake in the royalties. Go ahead and laugh at those people (maybe even yourself) right now. There is nothing easy about managing >20 people, balancing their time commitments with your book’s schedule, and persuading them to take time out of their busy days to generate high-quality writing for the sake of a bit of exposure and a few copies of the book. No matter how marvelous your idea for an anthology, nobody will love the project more than you. Nobody. Contributors will spend a few hours writing their chapter, reviewing your feedback, and then give you a head nod on the final version. They go off and live their lives in between those brief moments in time. Meanwhile, you are slavishly devoted to this book from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep every night.
Each contributor has a relationship with one person—you. As the editor, you must cultivate a relationship, track progress, remind, and provide personalized input and feedback to every contributor. Knocked Up Abroad had 23 contributors (22 if I don’t count myself, and yes I’m counting my husband because we often got into contributor-editor disputes just like anyone else) and each interaction was time-consuming and required careful emotional attention in my role as editor. Writing is intensely emotional and if your anthology contains personal stories, like Knocked Up Abroad has, the contributors may have strong reactions to your proposed edits.
Establishing a relationship with mutual respect and trust with your contributors is important. Some chapters will require a bit of tweaking to fit into the flow of the book overall. Remember, as the editor, you are the only one who is seeing the book as the sum of its parts. Each contributor only knows the chapter they submitted. It is your job to stitch all of these disjointed stories together into a comprehensive book that is enjoyable to read. There is artistic value in this editing process as you must step into your readers’ shoes and view your book from their perspective, all the while continuing to balance your contributors’ wishes for their artistic expression.
And royalties? I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but if you think you’re going to get rich off of an anthology, you are grossly mistaken. At one point, I added up all of my time and expenses and I calculated that I would need to sell 10,000 books in order to break even. To break even! Considering the average book sells 1,000 copies in an author’s lifetime, even a measly profit seems monumentally unlikely. If you want, I can send you the breakdown of the math behind this calculation, but it is super depressing. Instead, I’ll leave you with this anecdote: Three guys decided to collaborate and write a book together on some business topic. They posted a question on a writing forum to ask about the best way to establish a legal entity for them to share their royalties. The top rated response was, “Buy your buddies a beer. There. Now you’re even.” The money you’ll receive in royalties is nothing compared to the quantity of unpaid time you’ll have invested in the book, real expenses related to cover design and editing, and up front costs like ordering books in bulk that you must recoup before you can even think of dividing up “profits.” Instead, identify other publishing milestones or goals for motivation. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling, don’t expect anything regarding compensation and reward your contributors in non-monetary ways.
Reward your contributors
Chicken Soup for the Soul pays their contributors $100 per published submission. If you’ve read a Chicken Soup for the Soul anthology, you know that each book contains 101 stories on a certain topic or theme. The books aren’t stringently edited and the stories range from mildly interesting to fascinating. They are mass-produced, traditionally published, and your chapter is among 100 others. Is that great exposure? It depends on your publication goals as a writer. You are a paid writer with a book on the shelf that has your name in it. Sure, you have to purchase your own copy, but you’ve been published!
If you are self-publishing your anthology, you often don’t have a budget to pay someone even an insultingly small amount for their work (because we are poor!) but it doesn’t mean that you can’t reward them in other ways. What is the value of beautiful prose that came from someone’s heart about a monumental moment in their life? Is it quantifiable? Is it priceless? Contributors will write for an anthology for a few reasons: to see their work published in a book, add a book to their resume, receive exposure for their writing careers or other projects, and because they love writing and want to share it widely with the world. In my experience, people enjoy being part of an amazing book with other extremely talented writers. Having a book that all of your contributors can proudly say they were a part of is a major accomplishment in my opinion.
It is standard for unpaid contributors to receive exposure, and one physical copy of the book. Knocked Up Abroad contributors receive exposure and two copies of the book—am I twice as generous as the average anthology editor? From my perspective, receiving one book to keep and one to share is a nice pay-it-forward mentality that I like to employ whenever possible. It’s the least I could do to show my appreciation for their hard work and I’d love it for more people to read the stories if the contributors want to pass along their extra copy.
Regardless if your contributors are paid or unpaid, be transparent at the beginning of their involvement so everyone is on the same page.
Develop a personal relationship with your contributors
If you are self-publishing, don’t be a faceless publishing entity to your contributors. Skype or FaceTime with them when discussing their chapters and interact with them on social media. Support their careers are writers and share their achievements. Everyone’s successes are linked when you write an anthology. Any press for one contributor is positive press for everyone. Anthologies essentially build a strong network of writers if you connect them all together. For Knocked Up Abroad, I featured the picture and short bio of a contributor on the Facebook page every Friday. This not only introduced the readers to the contributors but it also allowed the contributors to learn more about one another. Developing and strengthening these networks can be beneficial for everyone involved.
Put a lot of effort into threading the stories together.
This is harder than one might think. When you receive a stack of unrelated chapters, it is your job to order them in the best way for the reader’s enjoyment. There may be a perfect transition paragraph in the middle of one chapter that needs to be moved to the end of the chapter in order to enhance the flow of the chapters. Identify any common themes or differences between chapters. Sometimes it is nice to have a change of pace, and you should strategically insert a chapter with a different voice. Perhaps the chapters naturally group themselves into similar sections. Perhaps showing the contrasts between two chapters makes it more interesting to the reader. Whatever you do, don’t randomly order the chapters within your book. Chaos! The reader may put your book down and never pick it up again if the stories are too disjointed. Readers enjoy stories where the characters experience struggle and triumph, hope and heartache. Ordering the chapters is of utmost importance. Read, reorder, read, reorder, read, reorder the chapters until you have a combination that receives positive reviews from your beta readers.
Anthologies are collaborative but not really.
It totally depends on the anthology, but if you are managing more than three people, you can’t make every decision by committee. If your anthology is a smaller group then you may be able to divvy up the roles and responsibilities a bit more equally. Collaboration and cooperation are necessary to create an anthology—we all explicitly understand that—but the day-to-day decisions must be executed by you as the editor if you have a large group of contributors.
Find honest beta readers.
The reactions from beta readers can often be more confusing than helpful. I knew the backstory of all of the contributors and helped some of the writers reshape their stories so I felt too close to the book to see it objectively. Finding a group of beta readers who are interested in your book and will provide you honest suggestions is really key. My mother-in-law was the most influential beta reader as she had very strong opinions about the chapters and their order of appearance. I never knew this until the book was already published, but some readers have a strong (I mean, really strong) preferences for font type, spacing between letters and words, and spacing between lines. One of my friends says she has a favorite publisher because they produce books that are pleasing to the eye to read. This type of input is really key when you are publishing a physical book. Ebooks don’t require the same level of attention to formatting as physical books do, but I suppose you can adjust spacing between paragraphs accordingly. Seek the input of these super readers and find a format that meets their stringent approval.
Hire an editor/proofreader.
It is my opinion that every single book that is published should be reviewed by a third party editor. Doctors go to medical school, car mechanics receive licensed training, and books should be professionally edited. Yeah, I know that your title is Editor, but you’re too close to your creation. When you’ve read each chapter 15 times, your eyes are tired, and you’ll miss things. Besides, you are hardly an objective reviewer. Your book will be better with an objective set of eyes reviewing every page. Set aside $2,000 to contract an editor. It’s the cost of doing business if you want an excellent book that is worthy of 5-star reviews. Every published book (traditionally or self-published) should be edited by a third party. I hired a freelance editor to review my book and together we agreed to follow the Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster Dictionary. As an anthology, you want to maintain the writing style and voice of each contributor while still making it a smooth and easy book to read. Not editing each contributor’s voice too heavily can be harder to achieve than you think, as we often tend to read books in our inner voice and make edits accordingly.
If your contributors have varied nationalities, you will have to decide which spelling you prefer—American or British English. Knocked Up Abroad had contributors from the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. It was a publication decision I made as an editor to proceed with American English and include temperatures in both degrees Fahrenheit and Celsius so that nobody was left wondering if the writer was describing something incredibly hot or cold. The book also has both English and Metric measurements to avoid reader confusion. Those types of additions were made after all of the chapters were received.
Regardless of the manual of style you select, apply whatever rules you have consistently across all chapters. In the end, you want your contributors to be proud of their work in the book so make thoughtful edits.
Don’t count on your contributors to market the anthology.
More contributors does not always equal more exposure. The reality is that some people aren’t really interested in talking about the book when it is finally published (and that’s totally fine), and it means that you can’t count on them to market the book. Your contributors all have busy lives, and remember what I mentioned earlier? Nobody cares about this book more than you. It is your responsibility to continue the process for marketing the book. You may be lucky and have some contributors who offer up endless fonts of help and resources, however not everyone will want to be as involved. It is important to have a marketing strategy that is not solely dependent on your contributors’ participation. Any extra marketing push from contributors should be seen as the cherry on top, not the entire sundae.
Celebrate every milestone.
My husband should have bought stock in Prosecco, because we popped the bubbly almost every week. Editing an anthology is lonely work. You’re working with a lot of people but it is often tedious, time-intensive drudgery in your home office (or kitchen table) by yourself. Celebrating every milestone will help you keep chugging along when you feel like giving up.
Received all final chapters? Celebrate! Successfully formatted your final manuscript into ebook and paperback formats? Celebrate! Uploaded your ebook manuscript to Amazon? Celebrate! Secured 10 pre-orders? Celebrate! All of these seemingly small milestones required hours upon hours of work. There is no such thing as a small accomplishment when you are putting together an anthology. Reward yourself so you can enjoy the process. Nobody is standing behind you cheering you on while your eyes cross after staring your your computer’s screen for months so be your own cheerleader and pop that bubbly!
Enjoy your own book.
You’re not doing this for the money, fame, or glory—that’s been firmly established—so enjoy the process. Have fun finding your contributors, connecting with people, and cultivating these stories. Clearly this is a topic you love, otherwise you wouldn’t be writing the book, so really dive into the process. I thoroughly enjoyed learning each step of the process from developing the book, creating the website, designing the brand (or making branding decisions, I didn’t design it really), and researching the many ways you can format, publish, and market your book. Be creative, have fun, and then do it all over again to capitalize on all of those lessons learned.
After reading about all of that hard work, are you ready to read the final product?